NOT UNUSUAL, EXCEPT IN ONE RESPECT
Aside from the victim having been the estimable Doc Halladay, Tuesday night’s win was your standard nail-biting Yankees victory, with Andy Pettitte skating by despite too many walks, a couple of rallies killed by double plays, and some rollercoaster action from the bullpen. That includes the great Mariano, who has shown for all his great accomplishments that he would very much prefer to be used with the bases empty and a lead. Having to pitch in a tie or bail out some other hapless reliever just isn’t part of the deal. Rivera still allows fewer inherited runners to score than the average AL reliever — he’s allowed five of 18 to pass, whereas (hold on) the typical cat will allow about six of 18 to score. It’s a benefit to the Yankees, slim or not, but you might think the greatest closer ever would do better. He’s actually had several seasons where close to 50 percent of inherited runners scored, which is odd given just how dominant he is the rest of the time.
A very high-scoring Scrabble word signifying tonight’s opponent, Marc Rzepczynski. He’s a lefty of the groundballer persuasion with just one home run allowed in his inaugural 27.2 innings. One wonders if this means another outfield start for Jerry Hairston. If Hairston is your main weapon against lefties, you’re really aiming too low. It’s as if we’re back to the days of Clay Bellinger playing center field (20 starts in 2000, Joe Torre, 20 starts!). Hairston is a better player than Bellinger in every way, but that praise is specific to the case and wholly relative.
Given that the 12th man on the staff (Mark Melancon … at least, he didn’t until recently) almost never pitches, it would be a better use of the roster spot to grant Shelley Duncan a berth. In these days of bloated pitching staffs, it would be seen as a brave, daring move to carry only 11 hurlers, but Joe Girardi is proving that the 2009 Yankees, at least, can make it through with less than a dozen pitchers. There is no reason not to acknowledge what is already a reality and use the spot as a weapon rather than a way for a lucky pitcher to get free travel around the country.
REPORTED WITHOUT COMMENT
Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, pitchers’ wins added above replacement:
AL TOP 5
|1. Zack Greinke, KC||6.0|
|2. Felix Hernandez, SEA||5.4|
|3. Roy Halladay, TOR||5.3|
|4. Cliff Lee, CLE||5.2|
|5. Edwin Jackson, DET||5.2|
|17. CC Sabathia||3.3|
|23. A.J. Burnett||3.2|
|30. Joba Chamberlain||2.4|
|32. Andy Pettitte||2.3|
|128. Aceves, Hughes, Mitre, Wang||-0.6|
BOBBY ABREU, PLAYER OF THE MONTH
He batted .380 in July and is having a fine year overall. The Yankees still made the right choice in letting him leave. The Angels got a bargain, one the Yankees weren’t going to get, either in dollars or term of years, and his 2007-2008 numbers (.289/.370/.458) were just adequate for a defensively challenged right fielder. Perhaps Abreu needed the extra motivation supplied by his free-agency letdown. Perhaps this is just a random uptick, and the numbers certainly suggest that. Abreu has always been a prolific line drive hitter, which explains his unusually high success rate on balls in play (career .349). This year he’s hitting .372 on balls in play despite the lowest line drive rate of his career. That’s the favorable luck component of what he’s doing. To put it in plainer words, Abreu hadn’t hit .300 since 2004, and hadn’t hit over .310 since 2000. There was no reason for the Yankees to expect him to post a top-10 batting average in 2009.
HE MIGHT WANT TO TAKE SOME TIME OFF
I’ve undergone this procedure and Bobby Jenks has my sympathies. Let us just say that the surgery itself is not too traumatic but the aftermath is not pretty.
GOOD-BYE WOODIE HELD
A brief note marking the passing of one-time Yankee Woody Held. Held was signed by the Yankees and had a couple of brief trials with the big club, but the team looked at his limitations — strikeouts, low batting average, shaky defense at short — and ignored the fact that he had a ton of power for a shortstop of the day. In a move that Casey Stengel later acknowledged was a mistake, Held was spun off to the Kansas City A’s in one of the many trades the Yankees made with that ballclub (they got back Ryne Duren) and not retrieved. He went on to hit 179 Major League home runs in a 14-season career during which he played everywhere on the field except first base and catcher. His versatility made him a Stengel-type player, but Casey never got the chance. Regrets from this page to Mr. Held’s family and friends.
HOLD THAT BULLPEN
Nothing I haven’t said before, but it’s current: Ken Rosenthal reports that the Yankees will be looking to trade for a setup man. They might give Mark Melancon another try first. It would be far cheaper to have him succeed than to deal off Jesus Montero for Huston Street. Melancon hasn’t pitched all that well lately, but has maintained great control in the Minors, walking just under two batters per nine innings, and of course he’s still striking out more than a man per inning. I’m not exactly sure why the folks at Scranton felt they had to let him pitch three innings on Tuesday, but we’ll assume that was an aberration.
As frustrating as the Yankees’ pen has been at time this year, it has overall been about average in its performance. Deleting Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez was a huge step in the right direction. David Robertson has been quite good the second time around, having allowed no runs in his seven appearances since returning. That said, four of those seven appearances have been in losses, and two others were in games in which the Yankees were leading by a large margin. It might be time for Joe Girardi to try entrusting Robertson with a higher leverage role. Al Aceves has also been quite the discovery, last night’s disappointing outing notwithstanding. If Brian Bruney finally returns and is healthy, a lot of the pressure to seek outside help should lift. At least, that’s the theory.
CANO: THE CAUTION HORSES
Seems to me that Robinson Cano’s latest slump is not getting a lot of play. While a certain segment of fandom wants to see Nick Swisher benched every time he strikes out with runners on, Cano gets a pass, because periods of extreme pointlessness is part of what we’re used to with Robby. Yet, Cano really hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders since April’s .366/.400/.581. While he hit for good power in May, his batting average dropped to .272, and since the six walks he took in April stayed in April, his on-base percentage for the month was under .300. This month he hasn’t hit anything at all. Despite 13 multi-hit games since the end of the season’s first month, Cano has batted only .248/.281/.392 in his last 38 games. The average American League second baseman is hitting .271/.333/.410, so as always with Cano, Hot Robby is a real contributor and Cold Robbie is a real problem.
Unfortunately, you can’t platoon Robbie against himself. Since a manager never knows when he’s going to be hot or cold, he can’t bench him only on the cold nights, plus there’s the traditional school of baseball thought, possibly correct, that claims that a hitter has to hit his way out of a slump (usually, if you listen to broadcasters, by bunting, but never mind). That leaves the team with a player who has some months out of the Rogers Hornsby catalogue and others that even Cody Ransom wouldn’t sniff at. Well, maybe Ransom, but you get the idea.
Cano has valuable, of course, especially in the absence of an obvious replacement. There’s no argument here that he be summarily dispensed with. Yet, his overall production for the season is sliding to the point where he’s closer to last year’s numbers than to the good stuff of the previous two seasons. He is, in essence, a tease. I’ve said this before: At some point, the Yankees may need to confront the reality that a player with lower highs and higher lows might be give them more value. Fortunately for Cano, that player is not yet part of the organization. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Cano’s contract escalates to $9- and then $10 million over the next two seasons, so their options may be very limited.
… And of course Cano is batting fifth tonight. Sometimes I don’t understand what Joe Girardi is thinking. If he’s thinking that Cano has a career batting average of .333 against tonight’s starter Livan Hernandez, he might want to consider that Cano has only had six at-bats against him. We’ve seen these kinds of small samples cited in lineup decisions before.
AND ONE THING ON SWISHER
I realize he made a key baserunning error last night, but the guy does have an OBP just under .400, is slugging .538, and is second in the league in walks drawn. He just misses making the league top 10 in whatever overall hitting metric you chose. He’s been a very potent hitter for the Yankees, and to run the guy out of town over one mental error is … a mental error.
YOU KNOW THOSE READER COMMENTS I PROMISED?
They’re still coming, eventually … I had a few other things on my mind I wanted to get to first. I’ll also be updating Wholesome Reading throughout the weekend, so stay tuned.